17 10 2018

A film review for a change, but anyone who enjoys medieval fantasy, especially with a Nordic flavour, will love this.

For a start, there is a hero quite unlike the typical Hollywood midgets (Tom Cruise, Mel Gibson, Brad Pitt); tall and slender, handsome and shy, Benno Fürmann (that is who I’m describing!) plays Siegfried, the young crown prince of Xanten, whose parents were killed in a raid and who was then brought up as his son by a blacksmith (Max von Sydow, as always excellent). This simple blacksmith, however, turns out to be also a master swordsmith and swordsman and he teaches the boy all he knows.

One night a shooting star falls to earth in the forest not far from the smithy. Two people run to investigate. One is Siegfried, now full grown, the other Brunhild, Warrior Queen of Iceland (played by Kristanna Løken), who is travelling with her entourage by ship along the great river, presumably the Rhine, and happens to be spending the night nearby. They fight over the strange lump of metal lying among the blackened and smoking tree stumps that is all they find where the shooting star landed. Siegfried wins. Brunhild is astonished. No one has ever beaten her before, and it has been foretold that only one man ever will, the man destined to be hers – which is why she fights, and kills, all who come to her in Iceland as suitors.

All night they make love, and at dawn she leaves, with Siegfried vowing to come to her and be king to her queen, and Brunhild promising to wait for him and to love only him for ever.

From the remains of the meteorite, the lump of metal that they found, Siegfried fashions a sword that is superior to all others: the sword which will become known as The Sword of Xanten.

Then one day he goes into the city with his “father” to deliver a consignment of swords to the King of Burgund. There, the King’s sister, Princess Kriemhild (the beautiful Alicia Witt), falls in love with him. And when he goes out alone and slays the hitherto invincible dragon (huge and very realistic) and claims the dragon’s treasure, the famous Rheingold, this does nothing to lessen her adoration.

He, of course, shows no interest in her: his heart is elsewhere, with the Valkyrie Queen Brunhild in Iceland.

But trouble is looming, for at the core of the dragon hoard is the Ring of the Nibelungs. And though warned not to touch it, the ever-fearless Siegfried takes it, laughing, for his own.

Everything starts to go wrong. Great love turns into tragedy.

I find it difficult to fault this film. It has everything, beautiful scenery (the smithy in the forest with the river swirling past, three longships sailing towards us through the mist in the fjord), authentic magic (shape-shifting, Odin’s ravens, the witch casting her runestones) all vividly and convincingly portrayed, two women who have never been denied anything in their lives, the one so forceful, the other so devious, and now both so passionately in love with the same man …


Film Adaptations

21 09 2014




I have to admit that in one or two cases – this one, forinstance – Blade Runner – I do actually prefer the film! And I haven’t seen Under the Skin yet …


CASINO ROYALE by Ian Fleming

23 07 2014

Casino Royale coverI read Casino Royale that night I said I was going to (after reviewing James Bond: The Authorised Biography) but never got round to commenting on it. However, now that I am about to embark on Live and Let Die, and have some time free, here goes.

I won’t tell you the story. You may have read the book once, no doubt long ago, or perhaps seen the film – not Sean Connery, this one was more recent and starred Daniel Craig along with Eva Green, a great favourite of mine since I first saw her as Sibylla in Kingdom of Heaven.

Eva Green in Kingdom of Heaven

And here she is with Daniel Craig in Casino Royale:

Casino Royale

But back to the book! All I want to do in this “review”  is draw attention to a few points that strike me as interesting,

Firstly, we meet “M” and get the whole set-up and a two-page Top Secret document on SMERSH at once. I somehow found this surprising. I’d always imagined that Fleming introduced these things, built up this alternative universe, gradually, but no, he had it all there ready in his head before he ever started.

Secondly, there is a reference at the beginning of the book to one of James Bond’s earlier cases. (remember this is the first Bond book Fleming wrote, and chronologically the first Bond adventure.) I’ll quote the passage. “Head of S” has just emerged from M’s room and is telling “Number Two” who has been chosen for this special mission:

‘One of the Double Os – I guess 007. He’s tough and M thinks there may be trouble with those gunmen of Le Chiffre’s. He must be pretty good with the cards or he wouldn’t have sat in the Casino in Monte Carlo for two months before the war watching that Roumanian team work their stuff with the invisible ink and the dark glasses. He and the Deuxième bowled them out in the end and 007 turned in a million francs he had won at shemmy. Good money in those days.’

Now I already knew all about that case in Monte Carlo, from the Authorised Biography. You can’t imagine how at home that made me feel in Bond’s universe!

Thirdly, his (Bond’s? Fleming’s?) misogyny, sexism, call it what you will. When Bond first hears that his sidekick on this job is to be a woman, he is furious. This pest of a girl … Women were for recreation. On a job, they got in the way and fogged things up with sex and hurt feelings and all the emotional baggage they carried around. One had to look out for them and take care of them. When she turns out to be the stunning Vesper Lind (think Eva Green) that makes his attitude worse, not better. Then she is abducted by the villain, Le Chiffre, and as Bond races after her in his Bentley, it is just what he had been afraid of. These blithering women who thought they could do a man’s work. Why the hell couldn’t they stay at home and mind their pots and pans and stick to their frocks and gossip and leave men’s work to the men … For Vesper to fall for an old trick like that and get herself snatched … But we have to remember that this is a man, and surrounded as we are by psychologically emasculated 21st century males, we may need to suspend our modern prejudices along with our disbelief as we read these books. And to be honest about who we would want racing to our rescue in similar circumstances. And in Fleming’s defence (SPOILER COMING) it turns out, ironically, that it is not Vesper who has “fallen for an old trick like that” but Bond himself. The abduction had been a trap Bond raced right into.

Finally, there follow two chapters that constitute perhaps the most horrifying and haunting torture scene in modern literature. It is there in the film but it is toned down. In the book he spends weeks in hospital recovering before he can return to the arms of Vesper. (Yes, she emerged unscathed.) This business of the reader / cinema-goer as voyeur, watching James Bond endure agonies  that only he could, is another key feature of the James Bond product. Perhaps the film world did it best in the very first one when he fell into the hands of the sinister and sadistic Dr No – once again while attempting to save a beautiful girl. James Bond as Knight Errant then. The man you pray will come along when you are chained to a rock and the dragon is approaching – even if he does believe that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. (As you will have guessed by now, I have a feeling he is right.)

Anyway, this evening I have another date with him: Live and Let Die.

Ingmar Bergman’s THE SEVENTH SEAL

3 05 2014

Dedicated reader though I am, I do occasionally watch a DVD when I find myself at home for the evening with nothing to do. And so it came about that last night I watched, again, after ten years, Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.


It was shot in black and white on a real shoestring budget (Bergman predictably could not find backers for his marvellous script), yet it managed to win the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 1957 and has been acclaimed as a cinematic masterpiece ever since.

A knight, played to perfection by Max von Sydow, returns from the Crusades to find Death stalking the land. The opening scene of the film, dawn on a bare northern beach, reveals the knight and his squire sleeping on the pebbles while their horses wait patiently at the water’s edge. They do not appear to have been shipwrecked. Presumably they were put ashore there during the night. The knight wakes, washes his face in the sea, kneels and prays.

Then turns to see Death standing behind him. “Who are you?” “I am Death … I have walked long at your side.” “That I know.” The knight proposes a game of chess. Death accepts and the game proceeds, giving the knight a respite during which he can save at least some of the small group of helpless people who collect around him.

Bergman tells us that he was inspired by the Carmina Burana, the songs of the wanderers, the homeless and the seekers during the 13th and 14th centuries, the time of wars and famines and plague, of the Great Mortality and the Dance of Death. He was also inspired by the passage in the Book of Revelations from which he took his title, Revelations chapter 8. The first verses are read, voice-over, during the opening scene. Read it for yourself. Then the knight’s wife does so, aloud and at length, during supper when the knight arrives home towards the end of the film. She has been awaiting him all these years and now they are finally reunited in death.

It is a cross between a medieval Morality Play, made up as it is, partly, of allegorical figures and events, and a modern Historical Novel, with tragedy and humour intermingled, scenes memorable for their realism, their happiness and love (the dreamy and lovable wandering player Jof and his beautiful wife (Bibi Andersson) and perfect baby, symbol of a future which looks to be in grave doubt), for their horror (the procession of self-flagellating penitents stumbling through the villages, the girl burnt as a witch before our eyes), and for their sheer timelessness (Death with his string of captives in silhouette dancing off across the horizon at the end of the film).

Bergman said of it that it was one of the films closest to his heart. It is now one of the films closest to mine.


Christine Keeler IS Grizabella

7 12 2013

Something rather different today.

Christine Keeler musical

I have always been a fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s. However, it seems to me – and I may be wrong, I haven’t yet seen, or even read a synopsis of, Stephen Ward – but it seems that he has lost the thread somewhere along the line.

The Mary Magdalenes (as in Jesus Christ Superstar) and the Grizabellas (as in Cats) have been forgotten.

I don’t mean the whores – there will, I assume, be plenty of that in Stephen Ward (how could there not be when he was, by profession, a pimp?) (one of the up-market ones, bien sur; me, I have always preferred the more earthy ones, bastards you know where you are with).

No, I don’t mean the whores, I mean the outsiders, the ageing beauties, the ex-whores, indeed all those who when they pass their use-by date are cast aside “like flowers of the field”.

This thought came to me when I read these two articles. Read them now – please – before going on. This one from The Guardian (which is admirable) and this one from The Daily Mail (which is the usual tripe). But read both to get the full picture..

Who was “the Glamour Cat”? Who was the femme fatale who had affaires with  John Profumo, the secretary of state for war in Harold Macmillan’s government, and the Russian naval attache, Yevgeny Ivanov, and brought down a government?

And who is now the shunned outsider?

Lloyd Webber should be seen with his arm round Christine. “Touch me! It’s so easy to leave me all alone with my memory of my days in the sun …”

It is indeed.

But now, apparently, it is just the silly and superficial (and rich) who count.

Or perhaps it is simply that Christine Keeler (unlike Mandy Rice-Davies and Stephen Ward) is not and never was “one of us”.

(Not so different from what I am usually on about, actually, now I look back over it.)